The effect of binaural beats on verbal working memory and cortical connectivity

J Neural Eng. 2017 Apr;14(2):026014. doi: 10.1088/1741-2552/aa5d67. Epub 2017 Feb 1.


Objective: Synchronization in activated regions of cortical networks affect the brain's frequency response, which has been associated with a wide range of states and abilities, including memory. A non-invasive method for manipulating cortical synchronization is binaural beats. Binaural beats take advantage of the brain's response to two pure tones, delivered independently to each ear, when those tones have a small frequency mismatch. The mismatch between the tones is interpreted as a beat frequency, which may act to synchronize cortical oscillations. Neural synchrony is particularly important for working memory processes, the system controlling online organization and retention of information for successful goal-directed behavior. Therefore, manipulation of synchrony via binaural beats provides a unique window into working memory and associated connectivity of cortical networks.

Approach: In this study, we examined the effects of different acoustic stimulation conditions during an N-back working memory task, and we measured participant response accuracy and cortical network topology via EEG recordings. Six acoustic stimulation conditions were used: None, Pure Tone, Classical Music, 5 Hz binaural beats, 10 Hz binaural beats, and 15 Hz binaural beats.

Main results: We determined that listening to 15 Hz binaural beats during an N-Back working memory task increased the individual participant's accuracy, modulated the cortical frequency response, and changed the cortical network connection strengths during the task. Only the 15 Hz binaural beats produced significant change in relative accuracy compared to the None condition.

Significance: Listening to 15 Hz binaural beats during the N-back task activated salient frequency bands and produced networks characterized by higher information transfer as compared to other auditory stimulation conditions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation / methods*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Connectome / methods*
  • Cortical Synchronization / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Pitch Perception / physiology*
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Young Adult